The Rat Tail cactus the common name for (Aporocactus flagelliformis) or (Disocactus flagelliformis) is a slender, attractive succulent plant with long flexible, branching, hanging stems about ½” inch in diameter.
Bristly ‘hair” covers the limp stems which can be trained into many shapes and forms.
Rattail cactus plants send out aerial roots and bear small bright red, crimson flowers about 3” – inches long.
Often grown in hanging baskets or grafted onto other cactus species (eg Trichocereus) and trained into fantastic forms.
Most growers consider Aporocactus flagelliformis an easy species to grow and showy in bloom.
Basic Rattail Cactus Characteristics & Care
Scientific Name: Aporocactus flabelliform | Disocactus flagelliformis
Common Names: Rattail Cactus, Rat’s Tail Cactus, Whip Cactus, Snake Cactus
Synonyms: Cereus flagelliformis, Cereus flagriformis, Aporocactus flagelliformis var. leptophis, Aporocactus leptophis, Aporocactus flagriformis, Aporocactus flagelliformis, Cactus flagelliformis, Cereus leptophis
USDA Hardiness Zone: 10a-11
Foliage: Bright green when well-cared-for.
Flower: Pink, crimson to red, abundant, fragrant and attractive to hummingbirds and pollinators.
Shape: Trailing, climbing or rambling.
Length: Up to five feet.
Water Needs: Water generously during the active growth period and very sparingly during the rest period.
Humidity Requirements: This desert plant likes low humidity.
Light Requirements: Plentiful and direct. Choose a west or south-facing window.
Temperature: Warm (60°-75° degrees Fahrenheit) during the spring, summer and early autumn; cool (45°-50° degrees Fahrenheit) during the late autumn and winter months.
What Is A Rat Tail Cactus?
This interesting cactus is an epiphyte (or lithophyte). This means, in the wild, it does not need soil to grow.
In its native, southern Mexico and Central America, it is often found clambering over rocks or into trees.
As of 2018, according to inaturalist.org, the increasing destruction of cloud forests in the Mexican states of Hidalgo, Puebla and Veracruz list the Aporocactus flabelliform as “near threatened.”
When kept as a garden or houseplant, its rambling habits make it perfect for trailing or growing in a hanging basket.
What Does Aporocactus Flagelliformis Look Like?
This interesting pendulous cactus has long thin stems. They are about an eighth of an inch thick and can grow up to five feet long. They grow at a rate of about a foot a year.
When the cactus is in good health, the stems are bright green in color.
Each stem has between eight and twelve ribs, separated by wide, raised areoles adorned with brown thorns about a tenth of an inch long.
Does The Rat Tail Cactus Have Flowers?
When the rattail plant matures, it produces numerous, very pretty, tubular flowers in the springtime. The flowers are about 2” – 3” inches long and an inch wide.
The flowers come in shades of pink, crimson and red. The blooming period usually lasts for several days.
Is The Rattail Hard To Keep As A Houseplant?
These tough, pretty, interesting plants are very easy to care for as houseplants (just watch out for the thorns). They are a perfect choice for a hanging basket in a sunny, still setting.
Line the basket with sphagnum moss and then add a nourishing, quick-draining potting mixture.
Place or hang the pot up high and out of the way because the thorns or spines can be a bit of a hazard.
Can Rat Tail Grow In A Standing Pot?
If you put Aporocactus flagelliformis in a standing pot, set the plant up high so the stems can trail.
Otherwise, the weight of the stems may cause the pot to overturn.
How Much Light Does Rat Tail Cactus Need?
Full sunlight is absolutely necessary for the plant to perform best. Put your basket or pot in a bright, sunny, west or south-facing window.
When the weather is nice and warm, put your cactus outside for extra sun and air.
What Temperature Does The Whip Cactus Need?
In spring, summer and early autumn, these cactus are happy at normal room temperature. If you are comfortable, your cactus will be comfortable.
In the wintertime, move the cactus to a cooler setting and allow the plant to rest.
Temperatures ranging from 45° to 50° degrees Fahrenheit are best. The rat tail can tolerate temperatures up to 60° degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months.
How Much Water Does The Rat Tail Cactus Need?
When the cactus is actively growing, the potting medium should be kept slightly moist. In winter, do no watering unless the soil becomes dry. Then water lightly.
Does The Rattail Cactus Need Fertilizer?
Apply fertilizer to this epiphyte by spraying a mild solution (half strength) of liquid fertilizer onto the stems every couple of weeks during the spring, summer and early autumn.
DO NOT fertilize the plant in winter.
How Often Does The Disocactus Flagelliformis Cactus Need Repotting?
It’s a good idea to repot the rat-tail plant once a year, right after it finishes blooming.
Surprisingly, this epiphytic cactus depletes the nourishment in its potting medium fairly quickly.
Unlike many kinds of cactus and many kinds of epiphytes, the rat tail like the epiphyllum orchid cactus enjoys a rich, light potting mixture.
Combine two parts high-quality potting mix with one part leaf mold, orchid compost or aged, milled cow manure.
Why Does This Desert Plant Need Such A Nourishing Potting Medium?
Even though these desert plants grow naturally in dry settings with little or no soil, when kept as a houseplant, you get much more spectacular results when plants get extra nourishment and moisture.
In the two videos below, the first one appears to be treating the Rat tail cacti as desert plants.
Note the faded coloring and relatively few blossoms.
Compare this with the plants displayed in video at the top of the page.
The difference may have to do with soil, water and fertilizing habits, as the presenter shares that the plants are in a “sandy mix“ and she allows them to dry between waterings.
Rat-Tail Cactus update
What Size Pot Or Basket Is Best For The Rat Tail Cactus?
Generally speaking, these plants do well in a 9” – inch basket or a 6” – inch pot. For root-bound plants, provide a slightly larger pot.
Otherwise, thoroughly clean and reuse the current pot or use a new (clean) pot of the same size.
If the plant grows too large for a 6” – 9” inch container, you may find it more convenient to take cuttings and discard the original plant.
When these cacti become too big, they are difficult to manage.
How Do You Propagate Rat Tail Cactus?
These “succulents” grow readily from a six-inch cutting of any part of the stem.
Use the tip of the stem, or cut an entire stem into six-inch sections to start lots of little Rattails.
Before potting the cuttings, allow them to air dry for a period of three days.
When cut into segments, make sure to keep track of which end of the segment is the bottom end.
When poking the cuttings into the soil, it is important to keep them right-side-up.
Don’t “plant” the cutting into the soil too deeply (no more than an eighth of an inch). If it tends to fall over, use a Popsicle stick or similar item to stake it up.
Treat the cuttings as mature plants. They should take root, and begin to see some growth, within two or three weeks.
Can The Rat Tail Be Grown From Seed?
Yes, follow standard cactus planting protocol to produce lots of little plants to enjoy and share.
What Are The Best Uses For Rattail Cactus?
In addition to making a wonderful conversation piece as a houseplant, these drought-tolerant cacti are excellent for xeriscaping projects in hot, dry climates.
They do very well rambling about in a rock garden and as a ground cover in a desert garden.